MIT Students Now Have a Place to Spend Their Bitcoins

At the nearby bookstore.

MIT’s Kendall Square bookstore might be the first campus retail shop in the country to accept Bitcoins from students.

“In the college industry, to my knowledge, I believe we are,” said Jerry Murphy, president of the The Harvard Cooperative Society, the corporate branch that manages the MIT COOP and the Harvard COOP in Harvard Square.

Murphy said the MIT COOP just rolled out their new Bitcoin acceptance program following a partnership with a payment processing company called BitPay, making them the first major university bookstore to add the digital currency as a method of purchasing college textbooks and logo merchandise in the U.S.

“Part of our decision to do this was based on the fact that we have had a Bitcoin exchange in our store for six months now,” said Murphy. “MIT has a reputation of being on the cutting edge of a lot of things, and the student body has an interest in Bitcoin. All these factors came together and we said, ‘let’s give it a shot and see if it makes sense.’”

While the MIT COOP sells campus-related products like T-shirts, sweatshirts, textbooks, and other supplies, the store is not run by the school. Murphy said it was an independent decision to team up with BitPay, and the systems were up and running Thursday morning.

“I don’t know if there are any transactions yet, but we are anticipating there should be some,” he said. “It won’t be overwhelming, but we think it’s something we feel we should experiment with to be on the cutting edge of innovation.”

There was some training to get the bookstore staff up to speed with the new system, but Murphy said it’s basically the same process as using a credit card. “They go to the register, get it validated, and we have the processor in the back end. It’s just a couple of different procedural things,” he said.

Murphy said his other stores, like the Harvard COOP, are not accepting the online money on location, but he wouldn’t rule it out completely.

“It depends,” he said. “If it’s something the students particularly like, and would use, and it makes sense for them, we would be crazy not to consider it and put it in [that store].”

The company’s decision to accept Bitcoin as a form of currency at MIT comes just months after two students announced a new program where every undergraduate would receive $100 in the digital currency for free to help create a Bitcoin ecosystem on campus. Last April, Boston reported that members of the MIT Bitcoin Club launched the “MIT Bitcoin Project,” after securing $500,000 from investors, to see if they could encourage fellow students to start using the paperless form of payment around Cambridge and on school grounds. The project is currently under review by the school’s Institutional Review Board.

The aim of the club is to provide forums where students can discuss, develop, and study  Bitcoin-related ideas, projects, programs, and businesses. “We believe Bitcoin has the potential to be not just a digital currency, but the future of money,” according to the group.

The MIT COOP’s rollout of their new Bitcoin payment system is a chance to prove that.